I happened to be staying at the Fincastle Winery Bed and Breakfast just outside Roanoke, Virginia the night of June 29, 2013 when local bluegrass band Acoustic Endeavors played a set in the field below the vineyard. They were so good I bought the CD they were selling during the interval.
On a Farm has 16 self-penned songs (by Warren Amberson, who handles guitars, mandolin, bass and lead vocals, and Kelly Green, on guitar and vocals), starting with the wistful but catchy “Hills of Home.” “I’ve been living on the other side of happiness for way too long,” Warren sings, “Right where Virginia kisses Tennessee.” It’s a heartfelt song about the trials of being in a band, always on the road and far from home and loved ones. The long, looping lines blend perfectly with the solo instrumentals and vocal harmonies.
The haunting “Tennessee Iris” reworks William Wordsworth’s “Lucy poems.” The boy grows up in the hills of Roan County, “young and carefree,” falls for Iris, whose beauty is the same as the flower’s. She returns his love, but when he’s made his fortune and searches for her, he’s told, “In the cold winter winds she had died.”
There’s a lot of death as well as heartache, betrayal, and desertion by lovers in these songs, which kind of goes with this country genre. “I Could Leave Here,” “Never Go Through This Again,” and “Last Time Today” are sung by Green and tell of feckless, heartless men and their inconstancy and infidelities. But the bruised, resilient hearts of the women in these songs will surely mend and lessons will be learned.
Virginian women in many of the songs can be cruel, too. A farmer’s cheatin’ wife has left him to “Hoe This Row Alone,” caring for the children without her, nursing his broken heart. But love isn’t always doomed. “To You I Wed” shows that married life can be harmonious and fulfilling. Men and women can face the “trials of life” strengthened by love, “faithful and true.” It’s a song of optimism, sung with spirit-lifting honesty.
But ultimately it’s not really the lyrics that make this album so endearing. The mix of sorrow and pain with occasional happiness and faith is conventional country music fare. It’s the musicianship and joy with which they play and sing, with banjo, guitars, bass and mandolin in their live set and an extra fiddle in the mix on the CD.